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Indicator 7. Low-Performing 15-Year-Olds in Reading, Mathematics, and Science

In the United States , 18 percent of 15-year-ol d students scored below PISA proficiency level 2 in science literacy, a higher percentage than in Canada (10 percent), Japan (11 percent), Germany (15 percent), and the United Kingdom (15 percent).

This indicator focuses on low-performing students in the G-8 countries in 2009. PISA reports the percentage of students in each country reaching several proficiency levels describing the kinds of skills students demonstrated in the PISA assessment. For each subject area, PISA describes six proficiency levels ranging from the most advanced at level 6 to the lowest at level 1. An additional category (below level 1) includes students whose skills are not developed sufficiently to be described by PISA. This indicator reports the percentage of 15-year-olds who performed below PISA level 2 in each of the three subject areas. Level 2 has been established as a baseline level of proficiency on the PISA scale, at which students begin to demonstrate competencies in reading, mathematics, and science literacy that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life (OECD 2010c). For example, in science literacy, students below level 2, at best, have limited scientific knowledge that can only be applied to a few familiar situations and can present scientific explanations that are obvious and follow explicitly from given evidence (see OECD 2010c for a complete description of each PISA proficiency level in each subject area). As an additional way of presenting information about low-performing students, this indicator also shows the highest scores of the bottom 10 percent of students in each G-8 country in each subject area.

On the PISA 2009 reading literacy scale, Canada had a lower percentage of 15-year-old students scoring below level 2 than all other G-8 countries, followed by Japan (figure 7-1). In the United States, 18 percent of 15-year-old students scored below level 2. This was a higher percentage than in Canada (10 percent) and Japan (14 percent); not measurably different than the percentages in the United Kingdom (18 percent), Germany (18 percent), and France (20 percent); and a lower percentage than in Italy (21 percent) and the Russian Federation (27 percent). A similar pattern was found with the highest scores of the bottom 10 percent of students. That score was higher in Canada than in all other G-8 countries (figure 7-2). In the United States, the highest score of the bottom 10 percent of students on the reading literacy scale was 372. This was a lower score than in Canada (406); not measurably different than the scores in Japan (386), the United Kingdom (370), and Germany (367); and a higher score than in Italy (358), France (352), and the Russian Federation (344).

On the PISA 2009 mathematics literacy scale, Canada and Japan had lower percentages of students scoring below level 2 than all other G-8 countries (figure 7-1). In the United States, 23 percent of students scored below level 2. This was a higher percentage than in Canada (11 percent), Japan (12 percent), Germany (19 percent), and the United Kingdom (20 percent); not measurably different than the percentages in France (23 percent) and Italy (25 percent); and a lower percentage than in the Russian Federation (29 percent). A similar pattern was found with the highest scores of the bottom 10 percent of students. Those scores were higher in Canada and Japan than in all other G-8 countries (figure 7-2). In the United States, the highest score of the bottom 10 percent of students on the mathematics literacy scale was 368. This was a lower score than in Canada (413), Japan (407), and the United Kingdom (380), and not measurably different than the scores in Germany (380), Italy (363), France (361), and the Russian Federation (360).

On the PISA 2009 science literacy scale, Canada and Japan had lower percentages of students scoring below level 2 than all other G-8 countries (figure 7-1). In the United States, 18 percent of students scored below level 2. This was a higher percentage than in Canada (10 percent), Japan (11 percent), Germany (15 percent), and the United Kingdom (15 percent); not measurably different than the percentage in France (19 percent); and a lower percentage than in Italy (21 percent) and the Russian Federation (22 percent). A similar pattern was found with the highest scores of the bottom 10 percent of students. Those scores were higher in Canada and Japan than in all other G-8 countries (figure 7-2). In the United States, the highest score of the bottom 10 percent of students on the science literacy scale was 374. This was a lower score than in Canada (412) and Japan (405); not measurably different than the scores in the United Kingdom (385), Germany (383), and the Russian Federation (364); and a higher score than in Italy (362) and France (358).

Definitions and Methodology

In PISA 2009, reading literacy was the subject area assessed in depth; a smaller portion of the assessment was devoted to mathematics than in PISA 2003, when mathematics was the major subject area, and a smaller portion of the assessment was devoted to science than in PISA 2006, when science was the major subject area. For information about how reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy are defined in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), see the Definitions and Methodology section of indicator 8.

In PISA 2009, scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. In reading literacy, the average score across OECD countries is 493 with a standard deviation of 93. In mathematics literacy, the average score across OECD countries is 496 with a standard deviation of 92. In science literacy, the average score across OECD countries is 501 with a standard deviation of 94.

Proficiency in reading, mathematics, and science literacy in PISA was defined in terms of levels based on student performance scores on each scale. Proficiency below level 2 is defined by scoring below 407.47 in reading, below 420.07 in mathematics, and below 409.54 in science. See OECD 2010c for a complete description of each PISA proficiency level in each subject area.

In PISA, "15-year-olds" refers to students who are between 15 years and 3 months old and 16 years and 2 months old at the time of the assessment and who have completed at least 6 years of formal schooling.

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